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An astronaut finds life back on Earth is out of this world in Apple’s new thriller

When Swedish astronaut Johanna Ericsson returns home from a year in space, nothing seems quite right. Was her car not red before? Has her relationship with her own daughter changed that much? With long-term space travel so under-researched, the person tasked with studying the effects of it is forced to turn the lens on herself in ways she didn’t anticipate. Could the disconnect in her mind be PTSD? Hallucinations? Something entirely different?

The psychological horror series is written by English playwright Peter Harness, best known for his work on another time-bender: Doctor Who. “I’ve always been very interested in space travel and the real history of it,” he says. “What happens to your brain when you look down on the Earth and you experience something called the overview effect, which is basically seeing everything that you’ve ever known separate away? For some people, that is a huge spiritual reawakening — it shifts everything in them and they’re full of joy, love and optimism. And for some people, it’s terrifying. They just can’t get back to the reality that they left.”

Constellation on Apple TV+. Pictured: One of Jo’s first signs that something isn’t quite right: the suddenly strained, increasingly strange dynamic between her and young daughter Alice (played by twins Rosie and Davina Coleman).
Apple TV+

While a year in zero gravity means that every astronaut returns from space a physically altered person, it was the psychological effects that fascinated Harness. “Mentally, they’ve gone to a whole other dimension and it excited me [to explore] what that does to you and whether you can fit back in,” he explains. “What if you have actually gone somewhere else and what if by going up into space you can actually never get back home again?”

While director Michelle MacLaren was interested in Harness’ approach to the idea of parallel universes, it was the character of Jo that drew her in. “When I read Peter’s scripts, they brought this in a very realistic, grounded, relatable way,” she says. “I loved that it’s character-driven first and foremost. Jo is a mom, who just happens to be an astronaut, and has got to get back to her daughter. It is very relatable for of us, whatever your situation is, if you get separated from a child.”

Constellation on Apple TV+. Pictured:  William Catlett as Jo’s fellow astronaut and ISS crewmate, Paul.
Apple TV+

For Swedish star Noomi Rapace (the original “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), the project was a fascinating exercise in what happens when you can’t trust your instincts. “It was challenging and incredible to be given the opportunity to bring a character like Jo to life,” she says. “She goes through all these extreme situations, losing her own navigation and then re-finding it. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character that is so intelligent and aware and so sharp, but still so vulnerable. It’s like an internal battle between a rational mind and a gut feeling.”

The show that takes place in space, the Arctic, Germany and Morocco uses English, Swedish, Russian and German to weave its story. The international aspect was an element that was important to the series creator as he built out Johanna’s world. “The whole series stands or falls by how authentic it is,” says Harness. “I don’t think you get away with doing these weird fantastical moments unless they’re coming out of the real world. People speaking the languages that they would be speaking was important, just as it was important to be very authentic with how we built the ISS [International Space Station] and how people move in zero gravity.”

Constellation on Apple TV+. Pictured: Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks plays Henry, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose quest for knowledge leads to a great and terrible discovery.
Apple TV+

Northern Finland, the Moroccan desert and the ISS all make quite an impression on the viewer — however, none of the striking visuals came easy. “It was physically incredibly challenging,” says MacLaren. “In the Arctic, you are dealing with incredibly low temperatures. The crew had to all be dressed in a certain way. We wanted it to look like almost 360 degrees of snow, so to get the entire crew and cast in and out of the set, we had to have designated snowmobile alleys or walking trails that would not mark our set. Morocco was really breathtaking, but we were dealing with extreme temperatures and we were out in the middle of nowhere.” Yet the biggest challenge was emulating space. “The actors are being hung from wires or they’re rolling on chairs or rolling on things on their bellies, miming that they’re in zero-G while they’re having these emotional or scary scenes,” says MacLaren. “It was exciting, but really challenging.”

Those challenges were heightened by the emotional nature of a story that simultaneously feels both familiar and not. “I think it’s an amazing reflection over, how do you spend your time?” Rapace muses. “What are your choices? How much time are we spending working? How much time are we with our families? Where do we divide ourselves? How present am I with my child? We take things for granted. We think, ‘I’m going to do it later,’ but the show is really shining light on us as humans and how we’re part of a big chain. It’s so interesting when you start thinking about daily decisions we make and zoom out. How do you live your life?”

The series premiere of Constellation begins streaming on Wednesday, February 21, on Apple TV+

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